Staying sober and sugar-free in Vasiliki. As if.

I go away for five minutes – okay, twenty thousand one hundred and sixty minutes, give or take a couple of hundred – and what happens? Those pesky health experts get cracking again.

It’s been a bit hit and miss with the internet but, in between sun salutations, sunshine and sleeping off the odd carafe, I have managed to glean a couple of nuggets which I thought it only fair to share.

In my absence, it seems scientists have asserted (as firmly as they are able – at least until the next time they firmly assert something) that fat is now our friend, white bread and rice are killing us and, contrary to their assertion earlier this year, we can all now backpedal a bit on the fruit and veg. Forget all that guff about ‘ten portions’ being the new five. Now it’s three. Three is the new ten… um, five. That’s right. Three.

To this, I can add my own extensive research into what is and isn’t good for us – conducted during my twenty thousand one hundred and sixty minutes (give or take a couple of hundred), and largely bereft of any sustainable means of fact-checking myself.

My research then, has found that:

1. The tomato has not yet ripened that does not improve with a sprinkle of sea salt. Even in Greece. Salt is good.

2. Authentic Greek moussaka (as served by authentic Greeks. In Greece), is best eaten earlier in the day, if you really must. By the evening it is generally as lukewarm as the languid chips by its side and nothing like as inspiring as the cookbooks would have you believe. And not even salt will wake those chips from their slumber. It will, however, improve the half-slice of tomato.

3. As an aside, even the Greek cats – Best Friends For Life until you run out of scraps – turn their skinny little noses up at the chips. Tuna, swordfish, chicken or prawns, however? Bring it on! Moussaka? Not so easy to furtively share under your table.

4. You should never expect to leave any of your favourite (ergo regular) restaurants sober. Order half a litre carafe and they will make it a litre. On the house. Order a 75cl bottle and they will either bring a little something extra in the form of home-brewed rocket fuel tasting of aniseed – or send you home with a carrier bag containing a further bottle of wine. ‘For you to try’. Ours is still in the fridge. Unopened.

5. Greek ice cream is never fattening. Neither is Greek yoghurt (when piled with fresh fruit, walnuts and honey), our hotel’s signature chocolate fudge cake – or their cherry soaked cheesecake, come to that – nor the generous portion of bread and tzaziki served before every meal except breakfast. And definitely not the Greek honey-soaked baklava, presented as a final tidbit, just before the aniseed rocket fuel.

6. Further to the generous provision of ‘on the house’ tidbits – both alcoholic and super-sugary – be aware that, day on day, these will increase exponentially to such an extent that, for the sake of your liver and your waistline, you seriously consider abandoning your favourite restaurants altogether for the remaining few days of your holiday. Which would be a shame.

I hope this has helped.

So what’s YOUR heart age?

Meanwhile, through an internet window on Monday, I learned that Public Health England has analysed data from 1.2 million people who have used their handy online ‘heart age calculator’. The ability to reel off your heart age is as vital, they say, as reeling off your height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

One in six men over forty has a heart age ten years older than the number of birthdays they’ve scraped through. Men are more at risk than women, although we’re not entirely off the hook.

I suspect few of us can reel off all four of these vital numbers with any degree of confidence but, by adding your height, weight, BP and cholesterol in with your age, sex, some basic medical details and your postcode, the calculator lets you know just how close to heart attack or stroke you really are – ‘with no doctor’s appointment needed’! That comes later, once you’ve scared the living daylights out of yourself and checked out the funeral plan.

I’m pleased to report that, even with a flaky internet connection, I have discovered that my heart is a good three years younger than the rest of my body. Or was until this week. I should expect to live to 86 before showing any sign of risk of heart attack or stroke – and hopefully a good deal longer!

What worries me ever so slightly is that 86 seems a hell of a lot closer these days than it ever used to. Still, plenty of time yet to write that blockbuster, sell the film rights, and master standing on my head in a yoga class.

Drive fast, live long and prosper

This always supposes, of course, that I survive every other conceivable threat to my body over the coming years. Greek taxi drivers being just one of many.

En route here from Preveza, I genuinely wasn’t sure I’d even see the holiday, much less some far off eighty-sixth birthday. Hot and pasty-faced, overdressed and overtired, we clung on mutely to the big pink towel beneath us – provided, I have no doubt, for our comfort – while our taxi driver did his damdest to kill us all.

Careering along at speed, more than once we overtook three cars at a time on blind bends – tucking in behind wagons with a vicious stab of the brakes before setting off again, still blind – swerved round wobbling mopeds and even threatened cyclists into submission. All this in air conditioning so fierce, it made my right eye twitch.

Would you like diesel with that, Sir?

We passed a hotel on the way: ‘Captain Stavros’.

They do that a lot here, label their houses ‘Captain something or other’. Echoes of the ‘tranqil fishing village’, now long, long gone. Get yourself a roadside table for dinner in Vasiliki, not five feet away from the sought-after one-false-step-and-you’re-in-the-water harbour side table, and you’ll spend your evening tranquilly gasping in diesel and shouting at your spouse across the souvlaki.

Life’s a beach

Greece, Levkas, ice cream chests
Agiofili beach, no longer quite so unspoiled

So far then, it’s been business pretty much as usual. Five years on from our first trip to Wildwind and Healthy Options, and twenty-five years or so since I first sailed into what WAS then still a tranquil fishing village, Vasiliki remains a building site in progress, yet the pavements and roads (such as they are) crumble on into dust.

I do fear for its future – the number of cars passing through these tiny streets has increased dramatically. And it can only get worse when the new ferry terminal finally opens. Even more diesel with dinner.

The once quiet, white-pebbled Agiofili beach, decribed as ‘one of the most beautiful beaches in Lefkada’, heaves with parasol bases, plastic chairs, discarded water bottles, abandoned ice cream freezer cabinets and piles of rubbish – literally, the crap they omit to mention. We went there early, setting off at 7.30am for a brief and peaceful guided meditation at the water’s edge – this ‘beautiful beach’ now best appreciated through eyes gently closed. Ironic, eh?

By the time we leave, the car park, newly hewn into the cliffs, spews bodies past us, down the steep steps towards the beach. Walking back we choke on the cement dust thrown up by car after car, totally unsuited to the rough track, spinning wheels digging deeper and deeper ruts. Not a walk our lungs wish to repeat.

But, turn a blind eye to all this and Vasiliki is still a beautiful place to be.

Will we back next year? Hell, yes!

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